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Geoff Hampson

Closing the digital skills gap

The BBC micro:bit is inspiring the generation of tech pioneers to help bridge the digital skills gap, says Geoff Hampson

Posted by Stephanie Broad | April 28, 2016 | People

As a nation, the UK would appear to have embraced the digital revolution with open arms. Our use of smartphones and access to broadband is amongst the highest in the developed world and many of us have taken to social media and online shopping with huge enthusiasm. This contrasts sharply with the well documented crisis facing UK employers because of the digital skills shortfall. The challenge for the future is how we become creators of technology rather than enthusiastic end users. 

Clearly the issue is firmly on the radar of not only the government, but also business, industry and education leaders. From upscaling the UKs broadband infrastructure to setting up classes to teach people how to code, there is a huge amount of work being undertaken to ensure the UK becomes a leader in digital innovation and skills.

One such initiative is the BBC micro:bit project. Kitronik is proud to be a partner in the campaign which the BBC, along with fifty organisations including Samsung, Microsoft, Barclays, BT and ARM has thrown its might into, to increase the digital skills of young people.   

Once pupils code the BBC micro:bit to change a song playing on their iPhone, power motorized buggy, or create their own piece of wearable tech, I am confident an increased number of children will become hooked on coding, digital creativity and making

Last month, the BBC micro:bit was officially launched and the corporation began delivering a million BBC micro:bits to every year seven student in the UK. 

But what exactly is the BBC micro:bit and how can it help address the UK digital skills gap? The BBC micro:bit is a pocket sized codeable computer with built in motion detector, compass and Bluetooth technology. The device measures just four by five centimetres wide and is designed to be fun and easy to use, enabling children to write simple code and complete a project in minutes. 

Importantly, the device also connects to other devices and sensors, kits and objects and works with Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Galileo, littleBits and Kano. This means the device can be used in cross curricular learning across STEM subjects and act as a spring board into more complex learning. 

Kitronik’s role within the project is to provide teachers with resources to enable the device to be used within D&T, allowing students to use the BBC micro:bit alongside laser cutters and soldering irons to create a range of fun and innovative projects. Once pupils code the BBC micro:bit to change a song playing on their iPhone, power motorized buggy, or create their own piece of wearable tech, I am confident an increased number of children will become hooked on coding, digital creativity and making. 

The micro:bit in action

This is because, as is often argued, children learn more effectively by having a hands on learning experience than other methods. The BBC and its partner organisations have recognised this as the best way for children to understand the new computing curriculum and early feedback from teachers suggests that the device helps students develop an understanding of the physical concepts in technology and computing, helping develop complex thinking, analytical and problem solving strategies.

The BBC micro:bit will be the pupil’s personal property. It will be theirs to keep. This means that curious children can play and experiment with the device away from school and explore its functionality and compatibility with devices such as iPads and smartphones. 

The BBC micro:bit’s use within STEM subjects, coupled with teachers equipped with the resources required to deliver lessons using the device will certainly spark children’s interest and demonstrate what is possible with coding. It will take time, but this is why I believe the BBC micro:bit will be influential in bridging the UK’s digital skills gap and help to inspire the next generation of tech pioneers.

Geoff Hampson is co-founder of Kitronik. 

www.kitronik.co.uk

 

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